House of the Dragon review (4K)

House of the Dragon was released on (4K) BluRay right before the end of the year, so we’re sure it made it to some people as a last minute Christmas gift. Should you pick it up as well? We checked out the 4K release of Season One of the prequel series to Game of Thrones.

Set about 200 years before the storyline of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is all about House Targaryen. Taking place during the height of their reign, we get to see an earlier version of Westeros where King Viserys rules but see things start to unravel when his inability to father a son stars to get to him.

As this is a prequel that takes place centuries before the original series, we’re treated to a brand new cast of actors, which includes Paddy Considine, Matt Smith and Olivia Cooke. For us though, the real stars of the show are its dragons, which in terms of special effects have been vastly improved compared to their depiction in Game of Thrones. Perhaps part of it is seeing them in 4K with increased detail now (I saw the original series in 1080p), but the dragons aren’t just an integral part of the story as they supply House Targaryen with a lot of their power, they also look amazing.

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Of course House of the Dragon also features all of the power struggles, plot twists and bloodshed that we’ve come to associate with the series, so in terms of tone this is exactly what fans will want to see if they haven’t seen it through HBO Max already. The storyline covers several years (jumping forward and introducing new characters and actors regularly), but leaves enough of that 200 year gap intact for future seasons as well.

The 4K Ultra HD version of the series comes spread across 4 discs, with Dolby Vision and HDR-10 support for all episodes, which have been encoded at a 2160p resolution in a 2.00:1 aspect ratio. The scenes where the picture quality stands out most clearly are of course the ones that involve dragons, but the dimly lit scenes in particular are impressive in how clean and detailed they still look. And while many scenes feature close-ups that feature a lot of facial and clothing details, the visually more impressive sequences for a TV series come from the moments with intense action sequences. We watched the series on a Dolby Vision-enabled screen, which results in more vibrant images than what I was used to in Game of Thrones (though I never saw the 4K transfer of that show).

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Audio-wise, this is another 4K home release of a TV show that features a Dolby Atmos track that elevates the viewing experience to something that’s almost theater-like. With frequent use of all the available channels, including the overhead ones that are especially impressive in combat scenarios and dragon scenes, House of the Dragon comes alive through its audio – which also includes more subtle effects like rain that surrounds you without ever drowning out the action that’s on screen. There’s a great balance in the mix between the channels, and we definitely recommend watching this with a decent surround system if you have the opportunity.

In terms of special features, disc-based releases of TV shows tend to be a mixed bag. Very rarely is there a rich selection of stuff to dive into, and in some cases it’s all very bare bones with very little beyond the episodes themselves. With about an hour of additional content, House of the Dragon has a decent amount of content to dive into, with the lengthy “Return to the Seven Kingdoms” feature being a clear highlight. It runs for almost half an hour, whereas the other extras are quite short in comparison, most of them running for two to six minutes. HBO Max does a great job in also making these extras available to subscribers as well, but for non-subscribers it’s nice to have them as part of the package here. On the other hand this also means that if you have HBO Max, there’s little incentive to jump on this set as long as they’re available to stream – unless you love having these or a shelf or plan to watch this in a home theater setting with streaming connectivity. It’s certainly a great fit for a setup like that.

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